1796 Best Seller Offers Fresh Glimpse of American Life Then, Now
Posted by infinitygoods on September 13, 2007
I’ve been doing a lot of research about American history lately, particularly the overland journey to the Wild West. In looking for information, I found a fantastic book. It is the first American cookbook, written and published in the United States of America using American ingredients and methods in 1796!
It is chock full of information and tidbits about life in a new country. Of course it has recipes. Some are strange for the 21st century, but most are mouth watering just reading them. But most interesting are the author’s views and opinions, not about food, but about life in general. She reminds me of the millions of bloggers today who write about their lives. Some naysayers think it’s nothing but a silly fad, but I believe it has the potential to teach future generations, hundreds of years from now, what and how our society thinks and behaves.
In reading “American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, an American Orphan” (yes, that is part of the title), I am finding how very much alike our society today is to our ancestors’ at a time when our country was new.
Simmons writes, “The world and the fashion thereof, is so variable, that old people cannot accommodate themselves to the various changes and fashions which daily occur.” Daily occur — did you read that? Just like today we have new developments like iPhones and blogs, in 1796 they too had daily changes. Just like today the younger and older generations are set in their own ways, so were they in 1796. Even 200 plus years ago, people were lamenting the good old days Simmons tells us, “They will adhere to the fashion of their day, and will not surrender their attachment to the good old way — while the young and gay (happy), bend and conform readily to the taste of the times, and fancy of the hour.”
These very comments could have been made today.
And just like today, there were plenty of backstabbing, jealous people too. In an advertisement for the book, Amelia Simmons had to place a notice that while the book was prepared for publication someone changed some of the ingredients “with a design to impose on her (the author), and injure the fate of the book.” She adds the corrections to the advertisement and future editions.
She also has opinions on orphans and female character. All this in a cookbook using plenty of ingredients which at the time were not familiar in England and Europe, such as corn cobs, turkey and cranberry sauce.
Historians say she was also the first to use the new words “cooky” and “slaw,” and that her book was so popular she had to write expanded second and third editions in 1800 and 1831. Future cookbooks even copied her ways of “American Mode of Cooking” and borrowed her recipes.
Mary Tolford Wilson, in an essay for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, writes, “Amelia Simmons still holds her place as the mother of American cookery books. And no later work, however completely it may reflect the mores of this country, has quite the freshness of this first glimpse caught in the small mirror held up by an American Orphan.”
Now that’s true American innovation!